There is a fascinating George Washington Carver exhibit at the Museum of Mobile through July 11th, and if you have the opportunity to visit, please do so. Carver, head of the agriculture department at Tuskeegee Institute, was a prolific researcher and teacher. Now we can appreciate just how much Carver was ahead of his time.
Carver could squeeze just about anything out of a sweet potato, soy bean, or, most famously, peanut (the exhibit emphatically points out that he did not invent peanut butter, which existed in many cultures before Carver). Still, his How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption puts me to shame when I think how I have already run out of recipe ideas for ground beef.
*The current craze for mineral makeup? Big deal. Carver had already discovered tons of uses for his produce, including cosmetics, baby massage cream, hand cleaner, and laundry soap.
* Carver came to Alabama and noted that “where there was poor soil, there were poor farmers.” Long before the current interest in organic farming, Carver espoused crop rotation and natural methods of cultvation. Although he recongized the cotton crop as a “soil robber,” it took the boll weevil – an insect! – to finally force Alabama farmers to try other crops.
* It won’t surprise you to learn he moved with energy and purpose, apparent from a short video of him working. (Wouldn’t most of us have quit at 101 preparations for the peanut, let alone moving on to the sweet potato?) However, you may be surprised by an audio recording of him. Apparently a childhood illness left him with a high-pitched voice, like Urkel but without the annoying nasal quality.
*His childhood illnesses actually allowed him to avoid the more strenuous labors of the outdoors, so he had the opportunity to explore and develop his interest in the natural world. It’s safe to say our kids aren’t getting enough of this kind of quality time today.
* Carver had to succeed through sheer resourcefulness. The only piece of lab equipment he had when he arrived in Tuskeegee as a department head was the microscope he brought with him. He and his Tuskeegee students went to junk yards to find the materials they needed to conduct experiments. Talk about green! Talk about reusing and recycling!
* Finally, Carver partnered with no less than Henry Ford in efforts to develop biofuels as an alternative to petroleum. Petroleum won out, of course – of all things, Prohibition was one of the hindrances to alcohol production at the time – and I was totally struck by the irony of the oil disaster playing out less than an hour’s drive from the exhibit, which opened in Mobile one month before the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
There is so much more to know about George Washington Carver. Take your kids to see the exhibit and be inspired by this extraordinary person.